Reaching for the stars

Exploring space to improve lives on Earth

Australian space technologies could improve the lives of everyday Australians, says University of Queensland alumna Kate Sweatman.

While completing a UQ Bachelor of Science (Hons) in 2015, the young science enthusiast secured a position at the Australian Government's Department of Science, Energy and Resources, before becoming Senior National Engagement Adviser at the Australian Space Agency in 2018.

Ms Sweatman is now focused on Australian space technologies and applications, innovations that could be revolutionary in areas such as remote mining and telemedicine here on Earth.

"Space offers so many opportunities for all of us here on Earth - from health treatments, to mining technology, to engineering advancements," she said.

"For example, one organisation we're engaging with is conducting research on cells in microgravity environments, such as space, where the effects of gravity are incredibly minute. Initial research is showing us that microgravity exposure may be able to help us kill cancer cells, as cancer cells have lower tolerance to microgravity than normal cells.

"And by also comparing the effect on muscles from microgravity and normal gravity environments, we can provide insights into how muscle deterioration occurs and the best ways to repair and improve muscle.

"We've also engaged with organisations that are developing advanced manufacturing composites with anti-bacterial properties that could be used to create new products from benchtops to seals to medical devices.

"These new antibacterial solutions could be applied to confined or high-traffic areas on Earth - such as hospitals or on public transport - and in space - in places like the International Space Station - to keep populations healthier."

Australia’s space medicine and life sciences sector is of particular interest to Ms Sweatman.

“Coming from a biochemistry and biomedical science background, this is a fascinating area that I have a real passion for.

“And with the Australian Space Agency, I'm able to promote and facilitate activities and partnerships with industry, helping to grow the sector, creating jobs, and opening doors for Australians.”

Sweatman’s time spent studying a Bachelor of Science (Hons) at The University of Queensland has been essential in establishing Australia’s space medicine capabilities.

“In evaluating and understanding what space businesses do, where many of these businesses are quite technical and STEM related, it helps to have an understanding of scientific principles.”

Sweatman’s scientific knowledge is complemented by a Bachelor of Business (Economics), and a Graduate Certificate in Management (Public Sector). She says the critical thinking skills developed throughout her studies have been an asset in her current role.

“Studying science and economics means I have the ability to not only establish if and where something can add value, but also to logically communicate how it could play a role in upcoming opportunities and scientific endeavours.”

It's only nineteen months since the establishment of the Australian Space Agency, and Sweatman is looking forward to continuing her career with the organisation. She hopes to contribute to the development of Australia’s space industry, and the progression of the Agency itself.